The selected students are given the deepest, broadest, richest education possible from Grade 6 to post-graduation
I got back yesterday from Imphal after conducting a two-day workshop with the Manipuri children who are beneficiaries of the REACH scholarship scheme of my NGO, The Foundation. They are the third such batch of children, the other two being batches of six each from the Andamans, and Kashmir.
The underlying belief beneath all the work we do is that the only people who will passionately work for the upliftment of any underserved area of this world are those that belong to that region, and its dreams. To that end, we select six children from one such region over an 18-month, six-tiered selection process, and give them the deepest, broadest, richest education possible from Grade 6 to post-graduation, so that when they return to their homelands, they return, if not as community and thought leaders, then at least pioneers of a new way of doing things, a way that makes the most sense to that region.
In the 12-14 years that they study outside their homeland, the children go home twice a year, meet their parents every four months, and stay connected to their roots through projects, excursions and mentoring opportunities in their alma maters back in their districts. Equally gratifyingly, it is in these 14 years that five profound bridges are built:
Children to children: When six Manipuri/Andamanese/Kashmiri kids join a boarding school where they are the first kids from their region, curiosity levels run high on both sides — the Foundation kids as well as the other children. This interaction is a long, deep one, which starts with an orientation of the culture, mores, eating and dressing habits of our children and ends, with the reverse happening over time as they make friends with Pranay from Surat, Kuljeet from Jalandhar and Usha from Coimbatore.
Parents to parents: Let me cite our Andamans selection as an example. In the first year of the Andamans scholarships, 12 Andamanese/Nicobarese parents visited Rishi Valley School where their children had just been selected to study. Their knowledge of the people of the rest of India had been gleaned only from ridiculously bad TV serials. Today, 18 months and three trips later, they know that not all Punjabis walk around with a leg of tandoori chicken in their hands and not all Bengalis are pompous, cultural snobs. They value the kinship they feel after four days of interaction, happy to see that no matter where the others hail from, they are all parents, concerned that their kids don't spend enough time on studies and convinced that nothing good will come out of their children's obsession with bhangra rap.
Parents to their communities: When our parents return home they right a host of wrong impressions their sceptical neighbours have about the rest of India, through simple retelling of personal experiences.
Region to region: It's astonishing how many holidays other students and their parents have taken to Manipur or Kashmir or the Andamans, now that they are familiar with the region and know our children and their families will be there during the vacations. Earlier bogies of safety, weather, infrastructure and logistics now dispelled, the allure of these places creates wonderful relationships that wouldn't ordinarily happen.
School to school: The schools we admit our various batches of children into seek to forge a deeper understanding of the schools these children have come from. Teachers from Rishi Valley School visited the Andamans, the principal of Sahyadri School travelled to Srinagar, one of the heads of departments of the New Era School, Panchgani, made sure she was in Imphal during the final selection of the children.
This informs our idea of India — an India where every region stands tall, proud, self-sufficient. Where all are welcome with diverse opinions, methodologies and worldviews.
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